FALLEN BEAUTY - Erika Robuck
NAL Trade Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0-451-41890-6
March 2014
Historical Fiction

Chatham, New York 1928 ~1939

1928:  After dark, seamstress Laura Kelley meets her lover and sneaks away to a forbidden performance of the Ziegfeld Follies in a nearby town.  Drunk with the happiness of borrowed freedom, the couple gives into passion that leads to the loss of Laura's innocence and a lifetime of troubles.  Meanwhile, not far away, at the estate named Steepletop, the famous Bohemian poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, hosts one of her notorious parties where she spurns one love for another, both female and male, all with the approval of her husband, who looks on as he is involved in his own affairs.  Searching for her lost muse while she struggles to finish her latest book, Vincent (as everyone calls Edna) seeks to find the balance between reality and happiness inside the haze of drugs and liquor.

Through the years that pass after that one fateful night, Laura is forced to raise her child alone and in poverty.  Once she can no longer hide her pregnancy, judgmental townsfolk ignore her business, buying their clothing instead from catalogs, which have become the latest craze to acquire mass-produced goods.  The scandal of birthing and raising a child out of wedlock tears at Laura's soul, forcing her to shrivel up inside, becoming bitter and angry while she hides inside her shop, venturing out only to buy food or go to mass.  Even her own sister, Marie, is cautioned by her new husband, Everette, to limit visits to Laura's shop, lest it taint his political reputation.

Laura's life is about to change when Vincent and her husband, Eugen, have occasion to meet Marie and Everette.  They invite the couple to their home on the mountain, along with Laura.  Laura, of course, does not attend the party, but Marie and Everette decide to go.  Once at Steepletop, they are enamored of the environment and the excesses of forbidden alcohol.  Mistakes made that night will have consequences in their future.  But Vincent doesn't care about how she corrupts Marie and Everette; she really wants to know Laura and persuade her to join her games of debauchery.  Laura, however, wants no part in Vincent's life, not even when Vincent offers her the chance to sew her a stage wardrobe.  In deference to Marie, who now hates the poet, Laura turns away from Vincent's advances and continues to eke out a sparse living.

FALLEN BEAUTY is the story of two women, both forever changed and shaped by their successes and their mistakes.  Laura has allowed the opinion of the populace to force her to live a life in darkness.  She has turned away from the man whose child she bore; he does not support her or her daughter, Grace.  There is a glimmer of hope when Father Ash brings a new man to town, a sculptor named Gabriel.  And when Laura comes upon a band of Gypsies late at night, there is hope.

The pages of FALLEN BEAUTY tell the story of Laura's life in alternating chapters with the story of Edna St. Vincent Millay.  In Vincent's chapters we feel her inner torture as she searches for her lost muse.  She is troubled that she has no control over lovers who no longer bend to her will.  And all the while there is Eugen, her steadfast husband who takes care of her and seeks to do her bidding.

FALLEN BEAUTY is a dark and dismal story, but the pages are intriguing, and the reader can't help but keep reading far into the night.  All through the book, Laura refuses to name the father of her child until the very last pages.  Other characters are very well drawn and shape the story around Laura and Vincent as these two women meet and their paths cross and uncross, weaving a tale of intrigue and sadness.

Diana Risso